Ypsilanti, Mich. — As Suzy Merchant walked off the Convocation Center’s basketball court, the difference from the last time she coached a game on that floor was staring up at her.
“The last time I coached a game on (these) sidelines, he was in my belly,” Merchant said, nodding to 5-year old son Ty Rakan, who accompanied her for her postgame press conference.
“It’s surreal a little bit to come back when I look at how big he is now. Time has gone by.”
The MSU women’s basketball team (2-0) helped keep Merchant’s memories of her former workplace positive, knocking off Eastern Michigan (1-1) 60-49, with signs of the time gone by evident in a video montage before the game, honoring the Eagles’ all-time winningest coach.
The video included photos dating back to when Merchant took over EMU’s program at the age of 28, photos Merchant half-jokingly described as “a little embarrassing.”
“I didn’t know what was going on at first, but when I saw everybody looking up I went, ‘Oh shoot,’ and I saw coach Merchant up there,” said junior guard Klarissa Bell, who finished with a career-high 20 points in the victory.
“Her hair was a lot different back in the day. It was cool to see her young and out there being a head coach, having fun. She loves coaching basketball, so I guess it was cool to see her there and now we get to have her here.”
Aside from the different hair and clothes, senior guard Jasmine Thomas noticed something else had changed while looking at old photos of her head coach.
“(She) smiled a little more back then,” Thomas, who finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, said of Merchant. “It was kind of funny.”
But for Merchant, one of her biggest joys comes from the maintained strength of a program that suffered through lean years before she took over.
The Eagles made the NCAA Tournament last year, and Merchant said she had a “really good time,” catching up with old friends and returning to the basketball court where she got her first chance to be a Division I head coach.
“When I took over the program they hadn’t had a winning season in nine years and we built it into an NCAA Tournament team and a couple (conference) championships,” Merchant said.
“So I really feel good about the work that I did when I was here and I appreciate the opportunity and the people and all the support.”